In a sport as competitive and unforgiving as mixed martial arts, nothing is ever set in stone. Bouts and events remain in a state of flux up until the cage doors close, and the first round begins. Cards change, fighters pull out, but what remains constant is that if a fighter trains hard, stays ready and keeps grinding sooner or later, their opportunity will come.
This Friday, at ONE: Warrior's Code in Jakarta, Indonesia, New Zealand's Nyrene "Neutron Bomb," Crowley will get the opportunity to showcase her talents to an audience of millions when she meets rising Japanese star Itsuki Hirata.
The pair will face off in an atomweight contest on the event's preliminary card. Hirata was initially scheduled to fight Bi Nguyen, but when the Vietnamese-American was forced to withdraw from the fight, the ONE matchmakers reached out to a somewhat surprised Crowley.
"I was literally out at dinner, and when I got the news, my mouth dropped to the floor. I was immediately speechless and had to ask if they had got the details right multiple times," Crowley said when contacted by NZ Fighter.
"I started to get butterflies, and then the excitement set in. I didn't care if it was two weeks or two days, I was ready to take any opportunity to fight for ONE. It was everything I had been working towards since I left NZ. This very opportunity. It is all I need."
The 30-year-old Kiwi lives on the Indonesian island of Bali, and trains out of Bali MMA. In 2018 she was personally selected by ONE’s Vice President Rich Franklin to compete in ONE Warrior Series. The series serves a feeder system to ONE and has featured multiple Kiwis on its cards. Crowley will be the second Kiwi, after Mark Fairtex Abelardo, to make their way from OWS to the main roster. She will also be the first female martial artist from NZ to compete in ONE.
A short-notice fight is never ideal. However, it becomes a lot easier if you're an athlete, like Crowley, who has a strong worth ethic and is surrounded by a team of experienced trainers.
(Image supplied by Singaporemaven)
"You don't really have time obviously to plan much of a camp, but I had been training consistently since my last bout in December, so the fitness is there. Just really trusting the experience and knowledge of my coaches to devise the game plan and trying my best to implement it with the time I have left."
In Hirata, Crowley will face an undefeated fighter widely regarded as one of the atomweight divisions top prospects. The 20-year-old Tokyo native comes from a Judo background and took up MMA less than two years ago. Crowley is excited about testing herself against the K-Clann trained fighter.
"I saw moments of her last bout with Rika [Ishige], and I know she is very well rounded as a fighter. Japanese fighters always come with a very strong presence, and have so much heart when they fight so I know she will be tough. She has the experience in the ONE arena and on the pro circuit, and I am looking forward to challenging myself against her," Crowley said when discussing her upcoming opponent.
A promotional debut is always an intense affair for any fighter, but thankfully for Crowley, it will be in Indonesia, a country she currently calls home.
"I have now lived in Indonesia for two years, and am still so content with my lifestyle and training regime here. It feels right that I have been gifted this opportunity to debut in Jakarta."
The highs that professional athlete can achieve often attract envious or admiring glances from those watching from the sidelines or the stands. However, what the observers fail to see are the long hours, buckets of sweat and intense dedication that it takes for an athlete to reach those transcendent heights.
Crowley has committed herself: mind, body, and spirit, to attempting to reach her pinnacle as an athlete. It's a journey few are prepared to make.
"The lifestyle of being a professional martial artist is one of endless improvement, incredible life learnings, and also some of the most hugely devastating and surreal emotions I will ever experience in my life,” Crowley said.
“This lifestyle makes my heart burn with passion, and the constant evolution as a human is what I believe truly saved me from myself. It is not easy, but if it was then everyone would be doing it. I love this lifestyle, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by an amazing family at Bali MMA, who always have my best interests at heart.”
The continued success of Kiwi MMA fighters on the world stage is inspiring a whole new generation of athletes who want to make their mark on the sport. It is not an easy road they are embarking upon and for those athletes ready to start their own journey, Crowley has the following words of wisdom.
"Advice I would give to a young fighter or any fighter really that is looking to follow in my footsteps, is to be realistic about what you are driven to achieve in life and to really understand your WHY.
"The camps are tough, every single person in the camp is tested physically, mentally and emotionally, and the ones that do really well are those that know their WHY and will grind day in and day out in the hopes of one day achieving some pretty amazing goals.
"I had to really pull apart my 'WHY' to be able to push through some days where I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, with the help of training alongside some incredibly inspirational people. I have a long way to go still, but it is in those moments that we grow and develop to not only become better athletes but better human beings."
All the hours in the gym have helped prepare Crowley for this moment, and on Friday inside the Istora Senayan in Jakarta, when the doors lock, NZ fans will get the chance to witness a Kiwi "Neutron Bomb" going off.
Written by Michael Clifton
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